The Jobs Keynote: A Buyer's Market

Lots of tech companies have talked about a strategy that puts the personal computer at the center of a universe filled with digital devices. But Apple is one of the few companies out there putting that theory into practice.

CEO Steve Jobs first announced Apple's digital hub strategy--a belief that the Mac would be the machine that helps users get the most out of their digital cameras, MP3 players and camcorders--at last year's Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Any doubt that Apple was serious about this plan--that talk of digital hubs would fade away and the company would focus on the next big thing--was eliminated during Monday's keynote, highlighted by the introduction of a remodeled computer and a new application designed specifically to augment the growing number of digital devices.

Noticeably missing from Jobs's keynote was any news about the high-end computers aimed at professional users, most notably the Power Mac G4 desktop line, which saw its last update in July. Instead, from his opening remarks about iPod sales to the unveiling of the redesigned iMac, Jobs spent his two-hour keynote focusing on consumer products and how they fit in with Apple's digital hub strategy.

Meet the iMac

Take the new flat-panel iMac, the keynote's highlight announcement and this week's Time magazine cover subject. Jobs hailed the machine as "the ultimate digital hub"--a bit of marketing bravado backed up by the specs. With two FireWire and four USB ports, the iMac offers plenty of places to plug-in digital cameras, camcorders, and iPods. Users have the option of ordering an iMac equipped with a SuperDrive, giving them the ability to burn DVDs. And the iMac's G4 processor--a decided upgrade from the G3 processor that previously powered the Mac--speeds up the performance of Apple's growing assortment of digital device-friendly applications.

The latest addition to the i-apps family--the free, OS X-native iPhoto --also debuted Monday. Just as iMovie works with camcorders to create videos and iTunes works with MP3 players to organize music, create playlists, and burn CDs, iPhoto complements digital cameras by organizing and storing photos. The application also lets users edit their photos, by cropping images, removing redeye, and converting color photos to black-and-white images. iPhoto aims to make it easier to get hard copies of your digital images; it offers a simplified printing interface and lets users order prints and hardcover photo books. There's also options for creating slideshows that can either reside on your desktop or on an Apple-hosted Web site.

"None of this would have been possible without OS X," said Jobs, noting that it was the new operating system's Quartz graphic technology that enhanced and enabled many of iPhoto's editing and presentation features.

X's Turn

Talk of OS X has dominated previous Jobs keynotes. And while Jobs spent some time looking at Apple's progress in transitioning from Mac OS 9 to the next-generation operating system, he left the bulk of the OS X talk to Mac developers. Adobe executive vice president Shantanu Narayen showed a number of Adobe products running in OS X, including a future version of Photoshop--"It's real and almost here," Narayen said. The software giant also announced OS X-native versions of GoLive and LiveMotion Monday.

Palm Chief Operating Officer Todd Bradley demonstrated a beta version of Palm Desktop, including hot syncing for OS X. The beta is available at Palm's Web site. Other demos of OS X-native included public showings of already-released products including Apple's Final Cut Pro 3, Mathematica from Wolfram Research, and Aspyr's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone game.

Jobs did have one bit of OS X-related news to announce on his own: starting with the new iMac, every Mac will ship with OS X as the default operating system. "Looking at the progress we've made, we decided it's time," Jobs said (OS 9 will still come pre-installed on all Macs; users jittery about OS X can reconfigure their computer to make OS 9 the default system when the Mac boots up.).

With the focus on consumers during Monday's keynote, Jobs also announced some minor changes to the iBook, Apple's consumer laptop. Apple knocked $100 off the price of the 500MHz iBook, which now sells for $1,299. It also introduced a $1,799 iBook with a 14-inch display, the company's response to Mac users who objected to the small screen size of the 12-inch model.

Even the minor announcements in Jobs's keynote had a decidedly consumer-friendly flavor. The Apple CEO opened his speech by recapping the introduction of the iPod. Between the November 10 release and December 31, Apple sold 125,000 iPods. "We couldn't have asked for more for the iPod's first 60 days out in the marketplace," Jobs said. "We're thrilled."

Jobs also announced that Apple had exceeded its goal of opening 25 retail stores by the end of 2001; the company opened 27, with more to come in 2002. And Jobs confirmed a record education order with the state of Maine, which plans to equip every seventh and eighth grade student and teacher with 36,000s iBooks. On a day dominated by consumer news, that choice was hardly surprising.

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